Les Alsaciens-Lorrains Dans la Grande Guerre

By Doderlein, Sebastian | Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2016 | Go to article overview

Les Alsaciens-Lorrains Dans la Grande Guerre


Doderlein, Sebastian, Canadian Journal of History


Les Alsaciens-Lorrains dans la Grande Guerre, by Jean-Noel Grandhomme and Francis Grandhomme. Strasbourg, La Nuee Bleue, 2013. 464 pp. 22,00 [euro] (cloth).

It is high time: with Les Alsaciens-Lorrains dans la Grande Guerre, Jean-Noel and Francis Grandhomme contribute an important study of Alltagsgeschichte of Alsace-Lorraine between 1914 and 1918. This book--the most extensive work on this topic so far--is based on meticulous research in numerous German and French archives and enriched with about 250, partly unedited, photographs.

The book is organized into seven sections. Following the battle front in detail, the authors remind us in the first chapter that in August 1914, Alsace-Lorraine immediately became an important battleground, allowing the French to temporarily regain Sarrebourg, Mulhouse, and Colmar. The front was then quasi-stabilized in September until the end of the war, with a German occupied zone (the Reichsland) and a French presence maintained around Thann, Masevaux, and Dannemarie. However, Alsace-Lorraine continued to be marked by the presence of the war.

Analyzing the situation of Alsace-Lorrainers in opposing armies, in the second and third chapters the authors give a detailed account of the daily lives of these soldiers, breaking with myths and taboos that are still commonly accepted. We learn for example that while in 1914, some 3,000 men left the Reichsland to enlist in the French army, most Alsace-Lorrainers fit for military service joined the German army without almost any concerns: 250,000 in the first weeks, 380,000 in total. The image of the malgre nous that developed in the 1920s must therefore be revised as an anachronism. On the basis of multiple testimonies, the authors also question any physical or moral maltreatment in the ranks as a general German politic against Alsace-Lorrainers. In fact, and contrary to what happened in WWII, many of them made careers in the military (99). Alsace-Lorrainers have served not only on all the fronts of the German and French army, aviation and marine, Alsatian emigrants also fought in American and Canadian troops.

The experience of the 17,650 Alsace-Lorrainers who fought on the Allied side was, however, quite different from their compatriots. Many, like the descendants of optants (those who chose to leave German-occupied Alsace-Lorraine to preserve their French heritage) from 1872, were raised in the cult of the lost provinces. The clash of their divergent memories appeared in the post-war years.

The fourth chapter is the most interesting one. While describing in detail everyday life under German rule, the authors reaffirm what others have said, including vexations and police arbitrariness, but are also careful to take a more reflective and balanced view based on what can be confirmed. In fact, 3,000 to 4,000 individuals in total were arrested or expelled by the Germans during its occupation (257). But this chapter also looks at the French zone, where hundreds, accused of germanophilia, were evacuated and put into French prisons. Obviously, the ongoing harassments in the Reichsland were pain beni for French propaganda, which did not stop underlying the unanimous sentiment of hatred amongst the indigenous population against the German intruders. Meanwhile, however, numerous Alsace-Lorraine family photographs collected by the authors show German soldiers as being part of the decor (273). …

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